North by Northwest Rally 2021: Day 1
11 September ’21
I was awake at 3:55a, so fine, whatever. Get up, take a shower, pack everything.. dang, its only 4:15a? I hear a couple bikes already moving into position, but there’s time, so I packed up the bike at a leisurely pace. It was a bit drizzly, but the smell of smoke was still on the air.. luckily I’d be heading away from fires, and would barely notice any impact from them until I got back to Bend. Still, rain.. I put on my gear.
Good thing, to, because as soon as I restaged my bike into the starting area across the parking lot, the rain had picked up a bit. I stood under a tree with a couple people and chit-chatted while we waited for for the rider meeting to get started. I distinctly remember talking to Justin Long about how iPhones not only refuse to charge when wet, but how even getting their cables wet can cause problems. Why I will remember this conversation will hardly surprise you..
Finally, we gather out of the now steady rain under the overhang of the diner entrance and get our reminder about safety, last minute details, etc. The Harleys will leave first, so as to reduce the amount of time they’re potato-potato’ing at 5:30 in the morning in the small parking lot of this hotel. I’m a little surprised to see so many people turn north with me - maybe my route isn’t so badly scoring as I fear? A group of 4 of us set up together and headed north towards our first bonus. The rain is coming down steadily and heavy in spots, and the sun has another hour or so to go before it will lighten the horizon, an hour I spend miserably trying relax. Darkness I’m ok with; rain I’m ok with, too. Add them both together, though… kryptonite. It doesn’t help that even at this hour, US-97 is a fast, busy road, with plenty of ruts and low-spots to make for some excitement. Every so often, riding in wet darkness even my aux lights at 100% can’t pierce, a sudden thud shudders the bike and soaks my feet as I hit another unseen puddle at 60mph. Unpleasant, at best, but soon enough the sky lightened, and the rain returned to a less-intense but still steady rate. I was able to relax into my normal +10-15 pace.
VJEFFER: Mt Jefferson - Warm Springs, OR - 96pts
From these coordinates, take a photo of Mount Jefferson, with the gabion and cattle guard in the foreground.
As would come to be a theme for today, the cloud cover and rain would obscure the gorgeous, dramatic landscapes we were to photograph.. thankfully, our rally master was more concerned about us capturing what was in the foreground.
What you don’t see here is the crowd of 7 or so of us, all having arrived at the same time.
4HOOD: Mt Hood - Mount Hood, OR - 68pts
From these coordinates, take a photo of Mount Hood with the Cooper Spur Rd / Baseline Dr signs in the foreground.
I stopped for gas right before turning off US-26N, and had a longish chat with Doug McCleary, who was taking a break himself.. was a pretty lazy stop, honestly. I ended up at 4HOOD to find 2-3 folks already there, and 3 more right behind me. “Oh good - Kerri is here! I must be on the right route!” someone exclaimed as I pulled off my helmet. If only they knew…
I pulled out of here pretty quickly, while everyone was still chit-chatting and eating snacks.
My struggles were about to get worse, however, because it was at this stop that I discovered that water had gotten into my phone, and soaked into a crack on my one charging cable! Thanks to a safety feature in the iPhone, it will refuse to charge when either of these things happen. I tried tucking them into pockets stuffed with dry paper towel, wishing I’d brought my ziplock of desiccant packs I’d been saving for just this sort of issue.. I spent the next several hours running through options in my head - new cable from a truck stop? Find an electronics store and buy a wireless charger, and zip tie it to the back of the phone inside my tank bag? Buy a new phone altogether? Watching the battery percentage tick down, down, down, drained by constant GPS tracking pings and weak phone signals, I knew if I didn’t find a solution for this, I’d be hosed.
Basically, it’s all Justin’s fault. We never should’ve tempted fate and joked about this happening.
The rain let up, and I braced myself for the gusty Columbia Gorge, but the wind was minimal, to the point that it might have been the least amount of wind I’ve ever experienced there! I had to take a bathroom break, which turned from a 6 or 7 minute stop into 15, as the gas station/truck stops were on the other side of the highway from the exit, requiring 3 different traffic signals to cycle. Frustrating, especially at the “wish I could just pee by the side of the road like a dude” factor, but we all have our struggles.
4BATTLE: Battle Ground Lake SP - Battle Ground, WA - 101pts
Take a photo of the Battle Ground Lake State Park sign at these coordinates.
Despite the long break a the truck stop, I seemed to be making good time, as 4 of the guys from the last location rolled in just as I was finishing up. I stopped again to pee at the state park, and they were still setting up for photos when I headed north to the next location.
The rain finally seemed to taper off as I wiggled through backroads, through small hamlets and villages I know the names of, but had never visited in person. Growing up in New England, I’m no stranger to back roads.. but there, our backroads are wiggly and curved, not full of 15mph hard 90deg turns! I felt like I was in an M. C. Escher drawing, but I was moving crisply and there was little traffic to slow me down.
It was also in this section that I realized that the slight hitch I’d been feeling in the front suspension had graduated to a “click”.. the front telever suspension was weeping at the last checkin, but the mechanic ASSURED me it’d be fine, and that they’d order a new one under warranty for me. “It’ll be here in 2 weeks, we’ll call you.” That was 4 weeks ago.. and I’d find out later that no, they HADN’T actually put in that warranty claim for me. 🤬
4TUMTUM: Tumtum Mountain - Amboy, WA - 25pts
From these coordinates, take a photo of Tumtum Mountain with the red barn in the distant foreground.
I cringed a little at the almost nothing point value here, trying to remind myself it was all part of a combo. All alone at this location, I passed one other rider on his way in as I was leaving, but the rest of my rally was going to be fairly lonely.
Ducking back onto I-5, I stopped at a Love’s to pee and held my phone under the hand dryer for 10 minutes to see if I could drive enough moisture out of the plug. No luck. That’s when I noticed the cracks in the plug on my ratty old cable, so I said “what the hell?”, bought a ridiculously overpriced power cable to see if a replacement would fix things. I plugged it in, and thank the gods, my phone started sucking up power again. I didn’t realize how much stress this had been causing me for the last 3 hours, but I let out a “whew!” and felt a lot lighter.
I haven’t been up to Mt St Helens in 6 or 7 years, but I remember that the road in would be both longer and twistier than I expected.. and it held true to this. I met a handful of riders coming out on my way in, which I found dispiriting; apparently I’d caught up to the fast half of the northern loop riders, but since the northern loop was so obvious, and with so many of us opting for it.. there was no way this was a winning route, unless I could conjure more points magically, or execute better than everyone else opting for this path. I knew that this wasn’t a podium route, but I didn’t realize what a kick to my confidence it was going to be to really admit that to myself. Between facing up to this fact, the stress of the phone snafu, the front shock progressively sounding and feeling worse and worse, and then riding the last 5 miles to the bonus in a thick, cold cloud bank, I felt tired for the first time… and it was barely lunchtime on Day 1.
4HELENS: Mount St Helens - Toutle, WA - 102pts
Know before you go: the bonus is located on a paved trail approximately 50 yards southeast from the parking lot and requires this short hike to obtain. Take a photo of the “Life Returns in Surprising Ways” interpretive sign at these coordinates.
I stopped for a little bit here, maybe 15 minutes total, to eat some lunch and get my head back in the game.
I’ve been really disappointed with the routing algorithm in the Zumo XT.. in this case, it tried to take me through downtown Centralia, WA. I realized immediately when it popped me off I-5 what it was trying to do, so I stopped and checked it against Google and Waze to make sure that I myself wasn’t nuts – I know the roads here, where it was sending me was ~5 min slower.. and by staying on the highway, I’d be able to make better time anyways. I don’t think there’s a “prefer scenic flower-sniffing routes” option that I left checked, but I’m for sure running a 2nd GPS or Google/Waze against it in future rallies, that’s for sure. 🤨
4TAHOMA: Mount Rainier - Eatonville, WA - 244pts
From these coordinates, take a photo of Mount Rainier with the “Do Not Enter” sign in the immediate foreground and the houses/Clear Lake in the distant foreground.
This is a GREAT view of Mt Rainier (Tahoma) when the weather is cooperating.. and the houses here on Clear Lake reflect that! I got some stink eye from one of the inhabitants of this McMansion cul-de-sac, which I ignored. Snapped my photo, said hi to one of the landscapers, ate a piece of jerky, and got back on the hustle.
The Zumo XT now wanted to send me on a hilarious 20-minute detour straight through downtown Puyallup, WA, which I spotted immediately. Ridiculous. At this point, I no longer trust it to generate anything close to accurate routing, and add “Double check route against Google” to my stop checklist.
4PINNCL: Pinnacle Peak - Enumclaw, WA - 88pts
From these coordinates, take a photo of Pinnacle Peak with the WARNER AVE / 284 AVE SE / SE 456 ST signs in the foreground.
I got the shot, finishing out COMBO4 (Washington state volcanos) but was VERY distracted by needing to find a bathroom. I had to pee like every hour on this day, completely ridiculous. Bodies are stupid.
The map insert here has the route I took in blue, and the suggested route in grey.. just silly.
So yeah.. I was distracted. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking “Wait.. did I stow my flag at that last stop?” After losing my flag (and 20 minutes) during West Coast 66, I’d made a point of say-and-do (say the thing you’re going to do, then do it) but my ADHD was bending towards OCD and it was gnawing on me.. did I actually put my flag back where it belongs. I stopped to check and OF COURSE I didn’t.. luckily I figured this out a “mere” 17 miles down the road, so I raced back and found it on the side of the road where I was 🤞🏼 it would be. Ray Villeneuve was pulling in right as I was leaving - I’d see him a couple more times tomorrow. We seemed to be on more or less the same general loop.. and I later found out, we had similar phone issues, except his shut down COMPLETELY and he got absolutely zero points for Day 1. 😟
Oh well.. the lost time ate up most of my cushion that I’d built up for this leg, and the adrenaline spike and subsequent crash had me dragging the rest of the day. Still.. onward we go!
VMTSI: Mount Si - North Bend, WA - 94pts
Take a photo of the Twede’s Cafe sign at these coordinates. If it is daylight, include Mount Si, framed above and to the right of the sign as in the sample picture.
Twede’s (or it’s exterior, at least) was the stand-in for the diner in Twin Peaks. They do in fact have cherry pie, and do make a damn fine cup of coffee.
At this point, I was almost exactly on schedule.. which is bad. Knowing how I was riding and how Basecamp does my itinerary, I should be an hour or so ahead.. but losing 42 minutes to a lost flag, the business with the phone cable, and my body decided that peeing was its new hobby, I just wasn’t on a great pace today.
Then, in central Washington, the rain started. It got pretty bad for a while - a slow moving storm cell just dumped on me for an hour, until I finally gave up and stopped at a rest area.. where the only shelter was a 2-foot overhang behind the bathrooms. Not the most respectable place for a lady to take a nap, but I did get to wake up to see a gorgeous sunset.
Of course, what comes after sunset? That’s right - inky, rainy darkness! My old friend!
MARYQH: Mary Queen Of Heaven Church - Sprague, WA - 376pts
Take a photo of the Mary Queen of Heaven Parish plaque mounted on the bricks at these coordinates.
I valiantly tried to keep my phone dry here. I was mostly successful.
I got gas and considered my options. I should get a hotel nearby, and really get my head together. Of course, the only room available was 45 minutes up the highway in Spokane.. 45 minutes out of my route… or I could continue on to Pullman/Moscow/Lewiston and find something down there. Did I really want to spend the next 2 hours in the dark downpour, and then get up and do 4 hours of twisties in the predawn darkness of Idaho, with a dodgy front shock?
No. No I did not.
It was dark. It was pouring rain. I’d had a long, ass-dragging day. I didn’t have a lot of emotional gas in the tank. I was now 30 minutes behind what even Basecamp thought I should be doing. I needed to stop and rest, even if that meant pulling back even more from a podium finish pace. I just didn’t have it today.. and that’s ok. This is for imaginary points in a weird, niche sport only a few hundred people care about. It’ll be ok.
I booked a room just outside Spokane, WA and called Jo for some moral support. I gave her the update, and we chatted until I got into Spokane. Had some minor fun getting into the hotel parking lot, as they’d recently put in a series of 4 roundabouts but hadn’t finished, y’know, paving them (let alone wiring up any kind of street lights) so I met 2 cars in them that were trying to go the wrong way around them, and then ANOTHER car that was in the wrong lane of construction zone.. I flashed my lights at all of them and they figured it out, and by the time I navigated the unpaved dirt and slop puddles and parked the bike, I just wanted to get out of the wet and sleep. I spotted Doug McCleary’s bike in the lot, and thought “well, at least I’m in good company..” I was in bed asleep by 10:30pm, with an alarm for 3:30am. Good night.